Challenges faced by general practitioners and allied mental health services in providing mental health services in rural Queensland

Matthew Bambling, David Kavanagh, Gisela Lewis, Robert King, David King, Heidi Sturk, Merrill Turpin, Cindy Gallois, Helen Bartlett
Australian Journal of Rural Health 2007, 15 (2): 126-30

OBJECTIVE: To examine the views of rural practitioners concerning issues and challenges in mental health service delivery and possible solutions.

DESIGN: A qualitative study using individual semi-structured interviews.

SETTING: Eight general practices from eight rural Queensland towns, three rural mental health services and two non-government organisations, with interviews being conducted before recent changes in government-subsidised access to allied health practitioners.

PARTICIPANTS: A sample of 37 GPs, 19 Queensland Health mental health staff and 18 participants from community organisations.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Analysis of qualitative themes from questions about the key mental health issues facing the town, how they might be addressed and what challenges would be faced in addressing them.

RESULTS: There was substantial consensus that there are significant problems with inter-service communication and liaison, and that improved collaboration and shared care will form a critical part of any effective solution. Differences between groups reflected differing organisational contexts and priorities, and limitations to the understanding each had of the challenges that other groups were facing.

CONCLUSIONS: Improvements to mental health staffing and to access to allied health might increase the ability of GPs to meet the needs of less complex patients, but specific strategies to promote better integrated services are required to address the needs of rural and regional patients with complex mental health problems. The current study provides a baseline against which effects of recent initiatives to improve mental health care can be assessed.

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